Gamification: The Rewards of Digital Play

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Gamification shouldn’t be considered one of those ‘catchy’ terms that refer to some fad that’s soon going to dissipate into nothingness as quickly as it appeared to arise. It’s a phenomenon that has been growing in popularity and application in an ever-wider range of contexts over the past several years, from the very clever gamified process of learning languages in Duolingo to the motivation and mood-enhancer app SuperBetter, which is in part conceived as a way of combating anxiety and depression. Even though I’ve been playing board and video games my entire life, my own engagement with ‘gamification’ as such has been fairly recent, and I’m only just beginning to apply certain game design principles into my teaching through new digital media units I’m designing. I first introduced a weekly topic on gamification (at the level of unit content) last year, for which I filmed a conversation with the exceptionally talented Danielle Teychenne, an interactive learning developer at Deakin University. Here’s the video:

This conversation, and a series of other informal chats surrounding it, has in short time given rise to a new web series that Danielle and I will host called Our Gamified World. We’re currently setting up the online ‘infrastructure’ for it and have filmed four episodes. If you’d like to join us in these exciting times, please feel free to subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter.

Few would argue against the idea that gamification is set to play a big part in the future of digital media culture – just as it is already playing an increasingly significant role in the present.

Join us! It’s a great time to play around with gamification… pun intended.

Living with Surveillance: Privacy and Freedom in the Digital Age

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Here’s a recent episode for my ‘Talking Digital Media‘ playlist on some of the issues involved in the rise of contemporary surveillance. The video was actually recorded a few years ago – in 2013, in fact. This interview with the very talented Danielle Christmas is actually the first ever conversation I recorded using Skype, which actually turned out to be a lot easier than I thought – and it’s something I haven’t done enough of since. So if there’s anyone out there working in the media industries – or a former student subscribed to this blog who’d like to contribute to the learning resources I’m gradually accumulating for teaching various digital media units – please feel free to get in touch! And if you’re just here for the show, enjoy the following great insights on what could not be a more relevant issue for the world today…

‘It’s Not Just You Talking to the Camera, Is It?’: Reflecting on the Use of Visuals in Teaching Videos

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It’s been a while since I posted (consistency is such a difficult habit to develop over Summer with the chaos of the festive season looming!), so I thought I’d share the latest video on film analysis and essay advice I made for students. I’m only indirectly involved in the teaching of the Cinemas and Cultures unit and it’s very unlikely that any students enrolled in the subject are subscribed to this blog. But this site is gradually transforming from a blog I use only to post content for my digital media students to have a broader interest in the wider issues of gamification, Media Studies 2.0, and eLearning.

As is clear from the visuals I use throughout this video, I’ve developed a habit (at least I’ve got this one nailed!) of filming some seemingly random footage whenever I head to a relatively interesting location, just in case… I never know what the footage might be useful for, but it invariably comes in handy somewhere down the track. When I glance at some of my teaching videos from 2013 when I first started doing this kind of thing, I notice just how long I was talking in front of the camera. Even though it was edited down, even though I aimed to get straight to the point at all times, and even though I sometimes overlayed the footage with a fake tweet or some other kind of extra visual content, asking the viewer to patiently watch me talk to them while sitting in my living room (no matter how interesting I tried to make this setting look) wasn’t sustainable. Indeed, even in 2013, one of the first questions a student asked about my videos in a seminar was ‘It’s not just you talking to the camera, is it?’ I’d known before this that I wouldn’t be able to make anything resembling a ‘video sermon’, and that question reinforced the need to edit other material into my ‘lecture’ content, whether they be interviews or ‘just’ footage of my dog Tiffany being herself…

I get the strong sense that every year viewers expect more and more dynamic and varied visuals when they’re watching something – even if it is for educational purposes and isn’t supposed to be (at least solely) for ‘fun’. So while this isn’t the most entertaining video of all time – it is predominantly essay advice after all! – it does highlight how I’m experimenting with somewhat random but hopefully unobtrusive video footage to combine with voiceover. The main consideration was to keep the viewer interested but not missing out on the important points being made; to engage but not to distract; to elicit attention and reflection but not overwhelm the senses with chaos and confusion. And really, Nature has always been a brilliant resource to go to for exactly this kind of balance…

Thanks for reading, and if you’re really bored, watching :)


The Journey To and From Mordor: Survival During and After the PhD

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Are you doing a PhD? Do you know anyone who is?

I won’t even bother to ask if they ever seem a bit stressed out… it’s par for the course, really.

Below are some videos of a presentation given by Dr Deb Waterhouse-Watson, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University. The talk sheds light on the sometimes gruelling process of completing a PhD and then continuing the (even more gruelling) journey into academia. Don’t let this put you off – Deb gives lots of valuable advice for how to succeed and shows that it’s a very rewarding process too – just think of all the cool shit the hobbits saw!!

Photograph of field and forest in Port Campbell
A photograph from Port Campbell in Victoria, Australia (7 March, 2011). Not Middle-Earth, but still pretty nice…

The presentation was delivered in February 2015 at Deakin University’s Faculty of Arts and Education’s HDR Summer School, and was aptly titled ‘There and Back Again…: A Non-Hobbit’s Tale of Survival, Reach and Visibility.’ If you are currently undertaking a PhD – or thinking about doing so after looking into your Palantir – watch this! If you know someone else who’s in this boat after deciding not to sail from the Grey Havens, send it on! If you’re not getting any of these Lord of the Rings references, you’ve probably stopped reading by now…

Good luck, and good hunting in the Fields of Rohan! :)

Making Welcome Videos for University Teaching

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I was recently asked to participate, in person or virtually – such is the nature of invitations these days! – in a few workshops on creating ‘Welcome Videos’ for teaching at Deakin University. I’ve been making these (and other) kinds of videos for three years, and I’ve got to the point where my immediate question to myself whenever I’m asked to do anything is ‘Can I use this opportunity to make a “movie”?’ That’s pretty much the mindset anyone needs to be in to keep a consistent online presence and avoid a stale YouTube channel. As a result of this workshop invite, I put together the following video and while I wasn’t able to attend non-virtually, I now wonder whether the contextually interpersonal nature of social media (and particularly the role film plays in this) blurs the once clearly distinguishable line enough to make my ‘appearance’ close enough to being ‘in person’ anyway… Enjoy :)

Looking into Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: The End of ALC201, and Your Beginning

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‘Who do you think is powering that spotlight?!’

Some reflections compiled during a seminar screening of ‘Fifty Million Merits’ (episode 2 of Black Mirror, season 1)

There’s something remarkable in the moment when the last frame of a film fades to black, the credits begin to roll, and the audience is dead silent in the stillness; when there’s no immediate movement for the door as everyone sits still in their seats, half stunned and half pondering the world… Not many films achieve this. Mostly, the herd of viewers rustle toward the door, crunching popcorn underfoot that’s soon to be swept up by anonymous and ignored cleaners. The crowd then dissipates, heading for the car or the boutique coffee shop or the nearby store to buy a new hat… maybe a real one, maybe not.

Although it wasn’t screened at a cinema, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is one such production. When I screened the episode ‘Fifty Million Merits’ to a class yesterday, the students were at first (and only at first) speechless – and I dare say the present screening will have the same result. This is perhaps predictable on the one hand given the expert building of tension within the tightly wound plot, combined with the unsentimental and anti-redemptory lack of closure. Plus the film begs far more questions than it answers. But I think the silence stems from something else too. The episode hits hard, implicating its audience in a dystopian scenario that offers a sharp and wide-ranging critique of present day digital screen culture through a depiction of a not-so-distant ‘future’.

From the humiliation of people as ‘fake fodder’ on Reality TV; to the absurdity of the consumption of virtual goods for aesthetic purposes; to the bullying of people with large body sizes who have been demonised by violent computer games; to the blurred dividing line between pornography and celebrity culture; to the reliance of identity construction on ‘buying shit’; to the reinforcement of sexist, racist, and classist ideologies through both the media and the very structures of society; to the fundamental undermining of conventional conceptions of ‘truth’ and ‘reality’; ‘Fifty Million Merits’ has it all, and then some.

The protagonist Bing (played so powerfully by Daniel Kaluuya, also of the 2010 drama Chatroom) tells Abi: ‘It’s all just stuff. It’s… stuff. It’s confetti… When I look around here, I just want something real to happen. For once…’ Nothing is real for Bing anymore, and even his climactic act of subversion is neatly packaged, commodified and filtered by the inescapable structures that govern his life. The ‘reality’ of the imagery in the last frame remains ambiguous, for all time. Yet when we consider aspects of ‘our world’ – the program ‘options’ in prime time slots on our television schedules, or the ethnic origin of the ‘enemies’ in the latest combat console game, or the YouTube advertisements that can only be skipped after a short time or not at all – this film is clearly very ‘real’ (whatever that means…)

We might leave Black Mirror once the credits roll, but it might also choose to stay with us. Perhaps if we earn enough merits we can set it aside and forget about it. Why not take another cup of cuppliance and stress less? That spotlight won’t power itself…

One last thought…

I’ve seen this episode at least a dozen times now, and the significance of its wide-ranging critique continues to grow on me. Are the young people who ride those bikes, who power the entertainment ‘machine’, who seem to (at least in the vast majority of cases) unthinkingly devour problematic ideological messages through their ever-present screens, the ‘Digital Natives’ or ‘Generation Next’ conceptualised by political leaders, journalists, universities, industry employers, and those who promote a Media Studies 2.0 approach? Are they the produsers or prosumers that we’ve been trying to be throughout ALC201 Exploring New Media? Or are they just consumers – those who do not create, share, participate, and collaborate? We’ve seen a variety of student activities across the consumer-prosumer spectrum throughout the year… What have you been?

And what will you be in the future…?

Whatever it is, good luck! :)

Adam and Tiff

‘Big Brother, I See You’: Ideology and Surveillance in Film

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For this week’s meLecture, I’ve focused solely on assignment advice through a few more in-seminar open discussions. When I recorded this, I was hoping it would be one fifteen minute video max, but once we got going (and even after some extensive editing) I couldn’t avoid having two parts… then again, less is not always more in some areas :)

Hope this helps! Given that I actually received an email thanking me for the very valuable points in this meLecture from a PhD student in Turkey who is not involved with the course or in any way assoicated with Deakin University, I’d say it might be useful… and it underlines the reach you can get when you leave a lecture theatre and venture into cyberspace instead!